Holding Ourselves Accountable
Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana expands its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council
November 12, 2021
Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council exists to hold to account our region, its staff, and especially its leadership’s progress and commitment to being an actively anti-racist, multicultural institution for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities in the Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana region for whom we serve and work alongside. In the summer of 2021, the council set out to recruit more non-staff members to expand the diversity of backgrounds. We are excited to introduce you to our newly expanded DEI Council and share a little more about their journey in this work.
Kelsey Bakken (she/her/hers)
Kelsey Bakken spent 7 years teaching Special Education at a neighborhood high school in Gage Park, Chicago. While teaching there she taught everything from History to Chemistry but spent most of her time focusing on creating a holistic post-secondary transition program. Through that venture Kelsey became passionate about ensuring that all students had access to the opportunities to hone the skills they need to fulfill their college and career goals despite the ability levels. Kelsey has since transitioned out of the classroom to the research and policy field where she works for the Illinois State Board of Education as a Lead Researcher. When she is not working Kelsey enjoys going for long runs and bike rides in the city, hiking when she can, and baking.
"I am consistently drawn to working against anti-racism because I don't think you can be effective in your role as an educator or policy-maker without doing this work. As my role switches from classroom teacher to researcher I want to continue to work on how I can bring DEI into my work on a consistent basis."
“I am consistently drawn to working against anti-racism because I don't think you can be effective in your role as an educator or policy-maker without doing this work.”
Regan Balmoja (she/her/hers)
Regan joined Teach For America as a 2013 corps member in her home state of Hawai’i. She taught high school social studies at James Campbell High School. Regan’s experience with her students has motivated her throughout her work in education and she dedicates her pursuit of education equity to them. Since joining Teach For America staff Regan has supported program members from the preservice stage through alumnihood across three regions. DEI has remained core to her work and continuous learning. Currently Regan is the Head of Antiracist Organizational Development on the TFA Greater-Chicago-Northwest Indiana regional team. Regan lives in Uptown where she serves as a community representative on a Local School Council. In her free time Regan enjoys trying new restaurants with her partner Adrienne, spending time with friends and family, and rollerblading or running on the Lakefront Trail.
Nidia Carranza (she/her/hers/they)
Nidia is a Chicago Public School Pre-K bilingual teacher who lives in the community where she teaches, Belmont Cragin. After earning her Master of Science in Education from Dominican University, she became a CPS Pre-K bilingual teacher. In that role, she has worked with children with special needs and teaching them in her native language, Spanish. Nidia is a mother, a daughter of immigrants, native to this continent with indigenous roots in Mexico, and a first generation college graduate.
“I am committed to being an anti-racist, multiculturalism and anti-bias teacher. This work never finishes and it is constantly evolving. The goal is not to reach a point where learning ends, the goal is for me to be constantly listening, reflecting, and growing. This is why it is important for me to be in the DEI Council to hold me accountable to have the space to grow in my learning.”
“The goal is not to reach a point where learning ends, the goal is for me to be constantly listening, reflecting, and growing.”
Jason Dones (he/him/his)
Jason is currently a Managing Director of the Corps Member Leadership team at Teach For America Chicago-Northwest Indiana. As a low-income Puerto Rican student growing up in CPS, the state of our schools is very personal to Jason. He grew up in Humboldt Park and deeply identifies as an Humboldt Park native and Chicagoan. Jason has served in a number of roles at Teach For America--all generally centered on programming and culturally responsive teacher-leader development. He is a founding member of the DEI Council and honored to continue his service. Jason has dedicated his life to advancing issues of equity and progress in both education and non-profit management. His experience facilitating adult development on issues of race and equity, activating the leadership in others through coaching and collaboration, and pushing the cultural competence of the coalitions and institution have all become central to his desire to contribute more broadly. Jason is a public school kid, a public school teacher, a Local School Council member, a coach, a leader in a broader movement, father, husband, son and caretaker.
Wisam Fillo (she/her/hers)
Wisam Fillo began her career in education in the classroom as a high school teacher on the south side of Chicago. After four years, she transitioned from teaching to coaching novice teachers and most recently joined the Greater Chicago-NWI alumni team where she focuses on career support as well as expanding and diversifying our school leader pipeline.
Wisam’s vision for transformative change in education relies heavily on the belief that our students deserve to have high impact leaders who look like them. She feels a deep sense of responsibility in her new role in making sure Black and Brown school leaders feel adequately supported, developed, and appreciated so that their impact can be vibrantly felt and their wellness sustained. Wisam is a 2022 Surge Institute fellow and intends to spend this school year pouring into herself and leadership development in tandem with the intentionality of the fellowship cohort experience. Surge has served as an affirming reminder of her inherent worth as a woman of color and the strengths she brings forth to the work.
In her spare time, Wisam likes spending her mornings outside and by Lake Michigan (when the weather allows), curling up with a good book, and traveling home to Virginia to see her big family. She enjoys long walks around the city as well as long walks along any dessert menu.
Lisa Hairston (she/her/ella)
Lisa Hairston came to Teach For America as a 2016 corps member in Las Vegas. Lisa was drawn to TFA because creating equitable experiences in the classroom truly resonated with her as a person that has a deep love for learning and the belief that education is the great equalizer. Lisa was a science coach for TFA Las Vegas and her cohort was grounded in the principals of DEI and CRT. In Las Vegas, she served as a member of the Leadership Council and helped to create regional policies and practices that were rigorously analyzed for DEI adherence and rooted out budgeting and hiring practices in those same values and principals. Currently, she is a Director of Leadership Development for TFA Greater Chicago NWI, leading the North Chicago Community Initiative. She continues to support the drive to equity in classrooms through her work with Project HEAL, a trauma-informed professional development nonprofit and by volunteering with military veteran organizations.
“I hope that DEI can be used to change systems and policies for Chicago communities and how to act as a coalition to affect these changes in a way that promotes enduring solutions.”
Jesse Holzman is a Behavioral Research Coordinator at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital and is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. They are a queer, non-binary, disabled, non-monogamist, anti-racist educator and gender, sexuality, and organizational scholar. Their dissertation explores how youth servicing organizations work to identify and meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. Jesse has offered professional development courses to middle school and high school teachers, social workers, and staff on how to work with LGBTQ+ youth. During these seminars, Jesse calls attention to both the assumptions people make about gender, sex, and sexuality and the way in which these assumptions are problematic and harm young people. Jesse is currently the elected secretary of Teach For America’s National Prism Alliance and co-organizes one of Chicago’s only non-binary community groups, Engaging Gender Chicago.
“I really believe in the work that the DEI council is doing - including building accountability structures, changing and challenging systems and structures of oppression and working towards liberation. I am a huge believer that research should not just stay on shelves, but should be put into direct action.”
“I really believe in the work that the DEI council is doing, including building accountability structures, changing and challenging systems and structures of oppression and working towards liberation.”
Sarah Prentice (she/her/hers)
Sarah is a 2013 alumna and Leadership Coach at TFA Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana. This is her second year as a coach at TFA and 8th year working in education in Chicago. As a coach, she works hard to equip teachers with the necessary tools, strategies, and mindsets that center anti-racist practices and uplift students across the region. Currently, Sarah supports corps members in Archer Heights, Gage Park, Pullman, Hermosa, Near West Side, South Lawndale, South Loop, and Bronzeville communities.
Sarah passionately believes in building leadership actions within and outside of the classroom starts with self-development and must connect to collective responsibility to our communities, as well as building relationships and intentional and inclusive coalitions to see excellent education for every student in Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana and eventually beyond. She calls Pasadena, California and Glasgow, Scotland home. She loves plants and has too many in her apartment to count. She and her fiancée have an adorable long-haired chihuahua named Ruby. In her free time, she loves playing the clarinet and kicking a soccer ball.
Danielle Ramsay (she/her/hers)
Danielle is a 2019 corps member and graduated from Dartmouth College in 2019. She has been teaching in Chicago for the past few years and just earned her Master’s in Early Childhood Education. She is excited to be a part of the DEI Council and contribute to holding TFA accountable to being actively anti-racist in all of its facets in this region.
“I want to join the DEI Council because as a TFA alumna, I saw the ways and instances in which TFA often falls short of its commitment to being anti-racist. It is so important that we uphold these commitments especially because we serve in communities of color.”
“It is so important that we uphold these commitments especially because we serve in communities of color.”
Amari Roberts (she/her/hers)
Amari is a Chicago native and a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in Human Development and Learning. She is passionate about advocating, empowering and supporting youth. She enjoys spending time with her family and creating wonderful content for her business that also empowers Black women. Read Amari’s guest post about her mission to uplift the voices of her peers.
“I joined the DEl Council because as a young person I have faced racism; from the way teachers spoke to the material they taught and I want to offer a different route and a frame of thinking so that other young people do not have to encounter what I did when I was younger.”
“I want to offer a different route and a frame of thinking so that other young people do not have to encounter what I did when I was younger.”
MaryAnn Salinas Vega (they/them/theirs)
MaryAnn Salinas Vega is a friend, daughter, sister, caretaker, scholar-activist, and lover of sunsets. Salinas Vega has a firm belief in work/life balance, leisure, and pleasure as radical parts of living. They have educational credentials in art history, women and gender studies, and sociology. For the past five years, MaryAnn has been working in sexual violence prevention and doing research to combat college sexual assault. Recently, MaryAnn’s work has expanded to include research into non-binary gender identity, historical uses of rape as a weapon, and institutional analysis. Salinas Vega believes in applied knowledge and uses their sociological toolkit to attempt to change environments to make them safer and combat social inequality. MaryAnn is a first-generation student, a photographer, book lover, and a charismatic trainer hoping to do a little good with the knowledge they have.
“I have been doing DEI programming for a women & gender studies center since 2015. I started my own company around the work in 2019. I want to challenge anti-blackness and make the world safer for marginalized communities by cultivating personal and structural change.”
“I want to challenge anti-blackness and make the world safer for marginalized communities by cultivating personal and structural change.”
Kate San Juan (she/her/hers)
Kate is an Idaho native who made her way to Chicago by way of Teach For America in 2009. After her corps experience, she continued teaching and then began as a TFA Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana staff member. Today, she works on the alumni leadership team running leadership development fellowships and programs for our amazing alumni eager to make an impact in the educational equity space. She has been a DEI Council member for the past three years and is excited to continue learning and collectively leading with her fellow council mates. She likes traveling and eating good food.
Kristen Quinn (she/her/hers)
Kristen has spent her entire career in education at Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana. She joined the regional team in 2008 as a Program Coordinator and spent her first eight years supporting corps members via member logistics, communications, data, culture, and the launch of our regional institute. She became our Chief of Staff in June of 2016 and took on our Strategy, Talent and Operations work in June of 2017. She leads our strategic planning process, leadership team strategy, and staff culture, and leads a team responsible for our talent strategy, executive assistance, finance, compliance and office operations work. Kristen is originally from Massachusetts and lives in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago with her husband, Conor, and her daughter, Evan.